Friday, 20 August 2010

Social Media - A Good or Bad Thing?

Are technological advances in media and communication a good or bad thing?

A recent study by Ofcom (the British communications regulator) showed that on average Britons spend seven hours and five minutes a day on media and communications. This figure includes such technology as mobiles, televisions, and computers. Furthermore, we are getting better at multitasking whilst using such technology. We can be watching the TV, whilst browsing Facebook, and receiving and sending text messages.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the effects of such technological advancements on society. Where will it end? How 'interfaced' will we become? Personally, I don't have a Facebook account. I have my laptop, blog, and mobile. Often I will turn my mobile off whilst writing, and I try not to have it in the room whilst we are watching the television. How about you? Would you feel lost without Facebook, Twitter, or your blog? What about your mobile or television? Your ipod or iphone? Your internet connection?

I was quite shocked by how lost I felt without my laptop and, for a day, my internet connection. I felt isolated, even though I was surrounded by friends and family. As technology advances, will we increasingly live our lives online or via our mobiles? What effect will this have on the way younger generations perceive social relationships? Will they lose valuable social skills?

At work yesterday, a colleague made a comment that highlighted one of the concerns I have about social networking sights, such Facebook. I've changed the name, to save any embarrassment.

"I find it quite odd that Fred will speak to me via Facebook, but then ignore me at work. He'll ask how I am and what I'm up to online, but then at work he'll just say hello and turn away and carry on working. He wasn't like that before Facebook."

I find this type of comment worrying, especially as recently a psychologist being interviewed on the news stated that in some younger people there is almost the perception that unless something is on Facebook it hasn't really happened. Is my concern an overreaction? Maybe. What do you think? Here are a couple of quotes to mull over:

'Technology... the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it.' Max Frisch

'The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.' Sydney J. Harris

(You'll be pleased to know that my laptop is back, albeit with a new hard drive and £120 dent in my pocket!)


  1. interesting question... I am a believer in the "gift of free will" God gave us. TO that end, I believe that inanimate objects, designed for good purpose are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. It is up to the user to determine their own course to take with the object. Forks didn't make me overweight (I had to be brutally honest here, for credibility's sake lol). Guns don't kill people, people do. Technology can most certainly be used for bad but it's up to the user.

    Laws regarding the use of inanimate objects and enforcement of those laws come in quite handy at this point in order to protect society.

  2. Interesting question (especially to someone who is currently 'working' on two laptops at the same time (long story!), with Twitter on in the background, and barely sees real-life friends anymore.

    I see deeper changes within society due to this technological advances in communication but I agree with Scott (above) that it can work both ways. I think isolated or socially awkward people have a much better social life via the net than they ever would have, and ordinary people ((esp writers, campaigners, small businesses etc) have much more access to information and ability to reach a large audience taking (some) power away from media giants and big business.
    Hmmm *strokes imaginary beard*

  3. Yay!! Your laptop is back and up and running!!!

    For me the internet is a godsend as are emails. But I personally draw the line for most other social networking stuff. Blogging is great because I get so much out of it and it's a once a day or take it or leave it type where I feel I am still in control.

    I tried facebook but stopped a few months into it when I realised that it could just grow and grow and I couldn't keep up - i.e. overload of instant information of varying quality - it was just constant, constant, constant mutual leeching of information!

    Anyway!! Like most things (tv, etc) it's best in small and sensible doses, I think!

    Take care

  4. Hands up here - I'm a technohile. (Mister AJ would say I'm still a Luddite but he's an IT bod and can't move until he switches on his laptop/iPhone/Satnav etc. Incidentally we met online!)

    I sit watching TV at night with my laptop going, updating my blog, writing "stuff" of various kinds, chatting to mates on Facebook and generally interacting with the world around me through a virtual interface.

    Most of my real friends live at least 50 miles away because of the nature of my career and the way my life has gone for the last couple of decades. It's good to be able to talk to them whenever I want to.

    Several of my friends (and I do count them as friends - not acquaintances) I've never met in "real life".

    It also means that I can have several conversations going on at once (unlike a phone) so I can spend an hour online and have interactions with a dozen people. On the phone that would take all week.

    I see no difference between using the net to talk to people while I watch something on TV and going to the movies and discussing the film with my mates whiel I'm there (except for the lack of people telling me to "shush" every few minutes)

    It's also no different from sitting in the corner reading (books are also part of the media) except it's more social. I often used to read magazines while the TV was on in the days before computers.

    I think I should have answered this with a blog entry shouldn't I? Sorry to go on so long about it.

  5. Of course I can't type technophile!

  6. While I am a major anti Facebook person (because I have seen too many students bullied and wounded on/by it), I feel that ultimately it's not the weapon to fear, but rather the people behind the screen there who see opportunities. I like to stay clear of others' opportunities to feel a sense of power.
    The internet itself I feel is a whole new world of sharing information, one that hasn't yet quite found a level. That's the side that fascinates me!

  7. I worked with computers (some were more friendly than certain colleagues) for eleven years. They revolutionised academia, just as in most other areas. But there is such a thing as 'information overload', you know.

    My machine (and it is a machine) serves me well as a facility. It allows me to get information quickly, stay in touch with friends around the world, listen to great music, get my writing out 'there', etc, etc. Having said this, I don't do Facebook or Twitter. I loathe texting with a vengeance and 'gaming' will always remain a mystery to me.

    As has been suggested already, the options are many but the choice is ours.

  8. Things were simpler without all the technology; life moved at a slower pace. As with all things, technology comes with its share of good and bad. It is how we use it that determines its worth. Unfortunately, technology has created the stressful illusion that everything has to happen RIGHT NOW.

  9. Hi Ellie! Glad you are "back" but sorry it cost you £ much is that in US dollars?! I'm sorry, I'm not educated in other monetary signs!
    I like your post on this subject. I've thought about similar things, too. I look at the "art" of handwriting as something that may go completely away someday, and also books, magazines, newspapers, etc...items made of paper. It kind of upset me at first (although I doubt I'll be alive to see all of those changes...)but after thinking about it more, it's just another chapter in the life of our human race. Look at how telegrams were once the fastest way to reach someone...or any one of a zillion other inventions that either helped, or gave the illusion of helping us!? I agree with Lisa's comment above, about the stress of RIGHT NOW! Thanks for making me think deep thoughts today!

  10. Scott - I agree. It’s how we choose to use technology not the technology itself. However, the types of technology available do influence those choices. My niece thinks it is socially acceptable to text continually through a movie, because it’s what her and her peer group are used to doing. I find it rude and irritating. I know she chooses to do it, but to her it’s acceptable behaviour.

    broken biro - you are right, the types of technology we are talking about have opened up a new world to otherwise isolated people; one of the positive points about the internet etc. And as writers we also benefit from all this amazing new technology.

    Old Kitty - I love blogging. I get to read about other people’s writing lives, pick up valuable information, and share my questions, dreams, and struggles. I don’t believe I would get that from Facebook. Plus, I don’t like the idea of being ‘poked’ every time I didn’t reply to someone’s message!

    MorningAJ - LOL. I can just see you now with your laptop, mobile, and TV! I used to be more like you, until I realised it was annoying the LSO. I decided to make an effort to spend more quality time with him. Your point about books has made me think though - I ignore him in much the same way when I’m reading.

    Greyscale - it is fascinating. I wonder where we will be in ten, twenty years from now?

    Martin H - you sound like you’ve found the right balance, which is what I’m attempting to do. My friends, family, and work colleagues all know I don’t do Facebook!

    Lisa - yes! You must have Facebook and Twitter, and now. Why? As writers we are being told to market ourselves and that social networking sites are the perfect marketing tool. I understand what they are saying, but where do I find the time?!

    Becky - about $300 I think. You are right. Everything changes. We might not see it as a good thing, but we’d better adapt or sink.

  11. These are some scary observations, esp. that one quote about technology re-arranging life so we don't have to experience it.

    Personally I've found Facebook enjoyable for my long distance friends and family whom I would only rarely see or communicate with otherwise. I'd miss it for that but not much else. And I can see how texting and Facebook have consumed the lives of teenagers, who now have an outlet during so much of what they consider "boring" in their lives.

    It's going to cause massive changes just like TV did when it was introduced.

  12. Interesting question. I have mixed feelings - in a way, it's a bit worrying, our addiction to techology. But then, I think the worry is part of our natural human response to anything that signals change. I think the response was likely similar when the radio was introduced - or the printing press!


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